By Kaylee Palma (’25)
The “firsts” in life seem to always stick with you as, in one way or another, they shape you into the person you become. They may be rooted in childlike innocence or take a more R-rated, explicit approach; either way, they’ve stuck
in your head for one reason or another.
Emily was my very first best friend. We met the very first day of kindergarten and bonded over our love for High School Musical and shocking ability to color within the lines. Despite our contrasting looks, her with perfect sandy blonde ringlets and me with pin straight brunette hair, we were convinced we were twins separated at birth. We were born on the exact same day at the exact same hospital, which seemed like too much of a coincidence to two five-year-olds. Our lives began only a few hours and a few feet apart from the other’s, it’s like our paths were meant to intersect. There was never any bad blood between us, we simply grew up and consequently grew apart. Our paths now ran parallel to each other — two separate stories.
Our skill for coloring in the lines developed into a shared love for drawing and painting. This subtly bonded us together throughout high school. Emily went to the public high school in our town, while I went to a Catholic school in the town over. We no longer saw each other in the halls every day, but we never stopped checking in on each other’s artwork or overall mental state. During the summer going into our senior year, our friendship started rekindling past routine check-ins and compliments. We aimlessly searched for days where the two of us could get together, but our schedules conflicted so much that it made it almost impossible. The second weekend of the school year miraculously aligned for us, so we started talking about going out to grab food somewhere nearby.
On September 10th, 2020, I was working my last shift before the school year started when I found out Emily’s path had come to an end. We both went to sleep the night before, but I woke up the next morning and she didn’t. Questions began haunting my thoughts, and they showed no signs of wanting to leave anytime soon.
Why do good people die young? If there is a God, then why does He rob the living of their brightest lights? He has prisons full of “deserving” candidates, yet He chooses to pick from those who deserve long, happy lives. Someone once explained it to me like humanity was a garden of flowers in full bloom: you pick the most beautiful ones first. Quite poetic, but I still thought it made God selfish.
I walked into my religion class the first week of October to a prayer card taped on everyone’s desk. My teacher was smiling from ear to ear as we all took our seats, and she quickly dove into a long, heartfelt tangent about what sat before us. The prayer card read:
My Novena Rose Prayer
O Little Therese of the Child Jesus
Please pick for me a rose
from the heavenly garden
and send it to me
as a message of love.
O Little Flower of Jesus,
ask God to grant the favors
I now place with confidence
in your hands
(mention your special prayer request here)
St. Therese, help me to always believe
as you did, in God’s great love for me,
so that I may imitate your “Little Way” each day.
With an intention in mind, you’re meant to recite the novena daily for nine days in a row. Saint Therese, who this prayer is directed towards, promised to shower the earth with roses from heaven before she died. Upon completing the nine-day cycle, you’re supposed to come across a rose as a sign that your prayer has been answered. Some people need to see to believe. Tangible signs that God has heard your prayers isn’t very common, and this uncertainty can steer people away from Catholicism. You could see the excitement on my teacher’s face from a mile away as she talked about her old students finding roses of all kinds whenever she assigned this prayer. It sounded bogus to me, but I figured why not give it a shot. With the devastation from Emily’s passing still fresh in my mind, my prayer request was that she was being taken care of up in Heaven.
What an odd intention to make, I thought, considering I had never been entirely committed to a belief in the existence of Heaven and Hell. It was easy to hope we go to some form of paradise after death, but I never had an experience that transformed my desperation into belief. My anger towards the possible existence of a selfish God made it hard for me to wrap my head around the concept of religion. And yet, some subconscious part within me was still holding onto hope.
My eighteenth birthday was overwhelmingly bittersweet. I was expected to celebrate becoming an adult, while Emily’s family was simultaneously mourning their daughter falling exactly a month short of reaching it. Trying to cheer me up, my parents decided to bring the whole family on a trek through a corn maze. Splitting up into two groups and seeing who could reach the end the quickest took my mind off my internal battle with the universe. I may have ruined my favorite pair of shoes, but my group finished first, so I guess it was worth it.
A few hours later with our bags bursting at the seams with boxes of apple cider donuts, we attempted to maneuver the most difficult maze of the day: the parking lot. Still on a bit of a ‘high’ from leading the victorious group, my legs began moving faster than I could think and carried me across the dirt covered lot. I was overflowing with false confidence, walking miles ahead of the rest of my family and somehow convinced I remembered where we parked. Without warning, the sea of self-assurance around me dried up and I stopped dead in my tracks. I glanced over my shoulder to see how far behind my family was, mentally preparing myself for how angry they’d get when they realized I led them in the opposite direction of the car. My sisters would be furious, as their legs were already sore from the main event of the day; I would be hearing about my mistake for hours to come.
As my impending doom slowly marched towards me, I glanced around at the spot I’d subconsciously chosen to be my death bed. Directly in front of me was a silver Ford F150. An oddly specific detail to remember, especially considering I couldn’t tell you the make and model of my own car even if a gun was pointed at my head. It wasn’t the huge build of the truck or the muddy streaks on the hood that imprinted the vehicle’s existence into my brain, but the light pink rose sitting on its dashboard.
A tangible sign from God: a flower of hope blooming from the ashes of my belief system. Whether I was desperate enough to take anything as a sign or my prayer was actually heard, part of me found peace that day. I may never understand why the greatest souls to ever grace the earth are robbed from us far too soon and I may never be one of those people who follows the Bible like a recipe for salvation, but I got a rose.